By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Officials have shot and killed four cougars in the La Pine area in recent days and are continuing to track a fifth cat.

Over the past week, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received multiple reports of cougar sightings, cougar tracks and cougars attacking domestic animals. One dog, one cat and 12 chickens are believed to have been killed by cougars recently in the La Pine area.

On Saturday, a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office deputy killed an adult male cougar found under a deck in La Pine after it reportedly attacked a dog. Monday, officials with the ODFW Wildlife Services department killed an adult female and two young.

A third young cat escaped and is suspected of being the same animal seen near the Corner Store off Burgess Road on Tuesday morning.

Derek Broman, carnivore furbearer coordinator for ODFW, said deep snow makes for a difficult winter for predators such as cougars. Seeking to conserve energy, cougars will seek out the easiest meals they can, he said, and if they happen to be living near a populated area when winter weather makes hunting challenging, that easy meal will often be domestic animals. He said cougars or other predators will often stick close to such food sources even after the snow melts.

Broman said places like southern Deschutes County, where quality cougar habitat butts up against quiet, thinly populated neighborhoods, are prime spots for cougar conflicts.

“La Pine isn’t exactly downtown Portland, so it’s not all that surprising,” Broman said.

Broman said reports indicate the juvenile cougars killed Monday were nearly fully grown and that it’s unclear why they remained with their mother rather than venturing out on their own. A cougar litter is typically around 2.7, he said.

The state considers cougars to be a risk to human safety when they act aggressively, attack pets or are repeatedly spotted during daytime in residential areas. However, ODFW has no record of a wild cougar ever attacking a person in Oregon.

George Wuerthner, a Bend-based predator ecologist and adviser to Predator Defense, said the state’s cougar-control approach overstates the danger the cats present. Conflicts with cougars could be significantly reduced if Oregonians took steps to keep animals indoors or construct better pens and kennels to avoid attracting cougars and other predators to their neighborhoods.

“People are smarter and have more options than cougars do, or wolves do, or any other predator,” Wuerthner said. “People need to take responsibility to protect their animals and eliminate predator opportunities.”

Wuerthner said Predator Defense takes the view that cougars in populated areas should be given time to move on, or relocated if that does not work. He said California has successfully pursued nonlethal cougar control for years on top of a statewide ban on cougar hunting, with no increase in cougar attacks on animals or humans.

Killing cougars, either in reaction to animal attacks or through hunting, may put people and their animals at greater risk, Wuerthner said. Mature males will frequently kill younger males that encroach on their territory, he said, but when those dominant males are removed, young cougars that are less adept hunters and willing to take risks older cougars won’t take move in to fill the void.

Broman said ODFW expects to continue searching for the cougar that escaped Monday morning until it is located or officials conclude it has left the area.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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